Is Flatulence a Disability?

The Smoking Gun reports a case of a federal employee being reprimanded for flatulence:

DECEMBER 21–A federal employee was formally reprimanded this month for excessive workplace flatulence, a sanction that was delivered to him in a five-page letter that actually included a log of representative dates and times when he was recorded “releasing the awful and unpleasant odor” in his Baltimore office.

In a December 10 letter accusing him of “conduct unbecoming a federal officer,” the Social Security Administration employee was informed that his “uncontrollable flatulence” had created an “intolerable” and “hostile” environment for coworkers, several of whom have lodged complaints with supervisors.

The worker, a 38-year-old Maryland resident, reportedly provided evidence that he suffered from “some medical conditions” that, at times, caused him to be unable to work full days. But a SSA manager noted in the reprimand letter that, “nothing that you have submitted has indicated that you would have uncontrollable flatulence. It is my belief that you can control this condition.”

The article goes on to recout, in odoriferous detail, the catalogue of incidents of flatulence maintained by the employee’s co-workers or management.

My immediate reaction to this report was that the man might have a cause of action under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Was the manager qualified to determine whether it was a controllable behavior? I’ve had employees who were frequently flatulent and have been known to pass gas occasionally myself. I strongly suspect that most of us have. The idea of reprimanding them for it never occurred to me. I just gave them a wide berth. Has Dilbert ever dealt with this subject? It might be a problem that is particularly aggravating in Cubicle World.

I have a vivid recollection of a flight from Chicago to Huntsville, Alabama. My seatmate was a large man, well over 6′ tall and undoubtedly weighing more than 300 lb. He had obviously eaten the breakfast burrito that morning, gave no obvious signs of having bathed since the Kennedy Administration, and entertained me during the flight by showing me his scars and explaining how he got them. Suing the airline never occurred to me. Not the most pleasant experience but it was just one of those things.

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